An exodus is underway among the young players of the academy of Minnesota United.
With the Loons sacking or firing all youth academy staff last week, players from the club’s Under-17 team and others from the three younger levels have left or have explored options at rival MLS academies and college.
Two players left earlier this year to join the New York Red Bulls system, another is now with Real Salt Lake and others are said to have tried spots at Sporting Kansas City this weekend.
Patrick Weah, whose cousin Tim is on the United States Men’s National Team and Uncle George was a star for Liberia in the 1990s, trained with the Loons first team in March, but the 16-year-old Wayzata high school graduate signed to play at St. Louis University.
âHe was on a path to turn professional. We heard that he was available, âBillikens coach Kevin Kalish told the St. Louis Post Dispatch earlier this month. âIt was probably the fastest recruit since I’ve been here.
Manny Lagos, general manager of football for Minnesota United, held a Zoom conference call with youth academy players and parents on Friday night.
A look at how the coronavirus pandemic led to the suspension of the MLS season in mid-March and the shutdown of the main sources of income the Loons generate from home games at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
âUnfortunately, with no income within our club from our local games, and without knowing when MLS will implement this vision (of the academy), we have had to take time off and let some people go because we are going. change, “Lagos said in a call with reporters Friday afternoon.
Parents were texting each other after the call, sharing their disappointment at the lack of answers on where this change is going and whether or not there will be a 2020-21 Youth Academy season, which will take place. Usually extends from fall to spring.
“It was just a bunch of words,” described one of the parents of an U17 player. ââ¦ It was really just beating around the bush. No answers. Didn’t officially say there was no squad next year, but said, “Join your local club for now and we’ll call you when we find out what’s going on.” ”
Lagos said he understood the parents’ frustrations, but said United must wait for MLS to determine their new youth academy structure and a schedule for a return to the game. It could happen as early as July. MLS is filling the void after the US Development Academy closes this spring due to the financial implications of the coronavirus.
In the midst of COVID-19, the league’s primary goal was to host the MLS is Back tournament for all 26 clubs to resume games in Orlando, Florida in July and August. The Loons’ senior team and staff took a charter flight to Florida on Sunday and are scheduled to begin the tournament on July 12.
âWith MLS working and refining their (academic) vision, this will take effect when we can finalize and plan our vision, as there is a timeline and coordination that needs to continue,â Lagos told Pioneer Press. can’t say what we’re going to do until they finalize the national schedule. ”
Meanwhile, Lagos has said he is encouraging players to find places at local clubs and play 40-45 games next year. One parent interpreted this message to mean that there will be no academic season in 2020-21.
Another parent said he knew changes were coming during a May meeting with United management, and several parents said they believed there had been an internal fight over the leadership of United. academy between Tim Carter, the academy’s director who was fired, with Lagos and the club’s top management. âI believe they didn’t want to put any money into the academy,â he said. “You don’t get rid of Tim Carter (and the other staff) if you’re trying to develop something.”
The Loons, who gradually added older teams over the academy’s first three years, have yet to commit to adding a U19 team, the next rung on the development ladder. So older children can’t see the sequel, parents said.
One of United’s most promising academy players is Bajung Darboe, a 13-year-old striker born in Gambia and from Madison Wis. He has evolved at several levels in the U17 Loons team. Minnesota has invested in Darboe’s future, but the older Chicago Fire product may have opportunities with other MLS academies and possibly elsewhere in the world.
âWe are delighted to discuss the next steps with Darboe,â said Lagos. âIf he doesn’t like the path, he can go elsewhere. But there are caveats at the end of the road.
Darboe’s father, Ousman, said United are planning to have a call with out-of-town players next week and are not yet sure what the future holds for his son.
âAs I speak right now, I have nothing on my mind,â Ousman said. âWe want to know what’s going on with out-of-state players like Bajung. â¦ We need more answers, but they don’t have them.
Lagos said the Loons hold the early draft rights to Darboe, which could be a disadvantage for other clubs in MLS to devote time and resources to their development or that of other players in the same location.
Other MLS clubs are signing academy players, parents have said, and some families linked to the Minnesota academy are wondering if they can get releases from the Loons. Lagos said they are working with existing academy players and more communication is expected.
The Minnesota academy’s biggest achievement is 6-foot-5 goaltender Fred Emmings of St. Paul, who at 16 became the club’s first local rookie in January. The Emmings contract does not count towards the club’s MLS salary budget, a major incentive for youth academies to develop players to potentially fuel club senior rosters.
While Emmings trained with the Loons’ first team in Blaine, he’s fourth in the depths standings and needs playing action to improve. The hope of the Luxembourg national team would have been a candidate to play in the U17 team of the Loons.
While United have signed young players from across the United States, including Florida, Georgia, Texas and Nevada, the majority of the rosters are made up of Minnesotans. The Loons’ geographic region for primarily attracting players includes Iowa, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas.
A parent of a Minnesota child said he had no plans to find another academy as it is his home base.
In interviews this week, Lagos highlighted the need for the MNUFC to focus more on the state’s young players as they ârecalibrateâ the structure of its academy. And while there is any doubt that Minnesota can produce top-tier players, Lagos has highlighted the abundance of top-tier basketball players the state has produced in recent years.
âHow can we use this as an opportunity to think about how we want to collaborate a little more within the local market and how we can really get all (local) clubs to join,â Lagos said. âWe are a bit on an island. We want to have more representation ofâ¦ Minnesotans on this list. It’s not just for next year. I’m talking about a five- and ten-year plan.
But without a staff and a lot of uncertainty about whether a season might come up this fall, the future of the Loons development academy looks bleak.
“How many children will there be left?” Asked a parent. “Who will be at RSL or KC?” Who is going to Cincinnati?